Birmingham Airport

“For people with sight loss, travelling anywhere can create feelings of anxiety, particularly when air travel is part of the journey. We are grateful to the staff at Birmingham International Airport and I hope this can be an ongoing collaborative partnership.”

Joshua Feehan, Engagement Manager

Transport is an area that the Birmingham Sight Loss Council are passionate about and have worked hard to help shape improvements across the region.

Birmingham Sight Loss Council have worked with a lot of local stakeholders to improve bus, rail and tram travel and in March 2018 they were approached to look into air travel at Birmingham International Airport. The airport had a RoomMate (audio-description unit) installed in their accessible toilet and the developers, ADI Access, approached the council for feedback on how effective it was for blind and partially sighted passengers. Sight Loss Council members were also offered a tour of the facilities and their access options, which began with being met at the monorail platform.

The tour started at the Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) desk and we were accompanied across the airport by both the PRM manager and staff from OCS, who provide assistance. The service helps up to over 800 people a day, which equates to thousands of people throughout the year. The airport were keen that all passengers have a positive experience.

The first stop on our tour was an assistance space in the departures check-in area. The members were asked for their feedback on a ‘help point’ button, which can be used to call OCS staff. We fed back around colour contrast and the lack of tactile markings. We also discussed the lighting, visibility of branding on the check in desks, flooring – both signage and texture with regards to cane users – and how the airport could install an app that will assist passengers to find their way around the airport e.g. Wayfinder.

At this point, they went to test out the RoomMate installation in the accessible toilet. The device is triggered by a sensor when someone walks into the room. Audio then starts playing which describes the layout of the toilet. The council found the audio to be a little quiet and slow, with the script being quite extensive. Overall, Room Mate is a great idea and we are pleased that the airport has considered the needs of people with sight loss.

The next part of the tour was going through security checks. The staff at the security checkpoint made sure everyone with sight loss was treated with respect and talked through each step of the procedure, including the electric body scan.

From here, the members were taken through to the departures lounge. It was noted that the flooring contrast showed a definite path which was great, but it did veer away in some places. There were also some issues with signage as the Special Assistance area was quite difficult to find. In this area, there was another disabled help point with similar colour contrast issues and lack of tactile markers. The airport staff were grateful for our feedback and are committed to making the necessary changes to provide a fully accessible service.

Yvonne Richardson, member of the Birmingham Sight Loss Council said:

“The staff went out of their way to make sure we were looked after. I hope the feedback was useful and improves the air travel experience for people with sight loss. I would feel comfortable to travel from this airport using assistance from OCS.”

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Publication date: 15 October 2020

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